Thoughts on the Stratford Shakespeare Festival/Shaw Festival 2012 Seasons
By David Grapes – Arts Journalist
Theatre patrons, who are passionate about quality theatre here in the U.S., should consider a trip North across the Canadian border into Ontario and spend some serious time exploring North America’s two largest theatre festivals – The Stratford Shakespeare Festival and The Shaw Festival. The American dollar appears to have stabilized against the Canadian dollar, so the entertainment value when compared to the costs of theatre tickets for Broadway ($150+ average) or in London is high. And if you search the web, there are some excellent airfare deals for the upcoming summer into Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson airport for about $450.00 to $700.00 from most major US airports. Rental cars are readily available at the Toronto airport. (Try Hotwire.com for the best airport rental rates) Driving time from the airport to either of the two festivals is less than two hours on four lane highways. Remember – Passports are now REQUIRED for any border crossing!
The Shaw Festival
Located in historic Niagara on the Lake (30 miles North of Buffalo 120 Miles South of Toronto) along the beautiful Lake Ontario shoreline The Shaw Festival is the only theatre in the world that specializes exclusively in plays by George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries. During the last three decades, under the artful and highly creative leadership of Christopher Newton and Jackie Maxwell, the Shaw not only earned a reputation for innovative programming, stunning visuals, but also become home to one of the finest acting ensembles in North America.
Maxwell (now in her eighth season) continues to produce excellent work as she explores the Festival’s expanded artistic mandate, which now includes newer Broadway musicals (Ragtime) and American classics (Come Back Little Sheba). While many in the Canadian theatrical community have criticized her for being overly fixated on female directors and playwrights, she continues to fill most of the seats and balance the books.
As the Shaw Festival celebrates its 51st season this year audiences will be in for some real treats including: a large production of the brilliant musical Ragtime featuring Thom Allison, another Inge classic from Maxwell (Come Back Little Sheba), a Martha Henry Production of Hedda Gabler featuring Jim Mezon and Moya O’Connell, two of Shaw’s most accessible works (Misalliance and The Millionairess), an adaptation of His Girl Friday by John Guare (helmed by Jim Mezon) and a classic comedy by Noel Coward (Present Laughter).
Another exciting development over the past four years has been addition of an intimate fourth performance venue – The Studio Theatre (which will seat 176 patrons). The new facility has hosted such diverse productions as John Osborne’s The Entertainer starring Benedict Campbell, Caryl Churchill’s provocative contemporary play Serious Money, When the Rains Stops Falling and Topdog/Underdog. This year the Studio Theatre will host Carol Frechette’s play Helen’s Necklace featuring Tara Rosling and Sanjay Talwar.
SHAW SEASON AT A GLANCE
Ragtime – April 10 to October 14
Present Laughter – May 3 to October 28
His Girl Friday– June 10 to October 5
Royal George Theatre
Misalliance – April 19 to October 27
French Without Tears – May 11 to September 15
Come Back Little Sheba – June 28 to October 19
Court House Theatre
A Man and Some Women – April 27 to September 22
The Millionairess – June 20 to October 6
Hedda Gabler – July 25 to Sept 29
Trouble in Tahiti – June 1 to October 7 (lunchtime theatre)
Helen’s Necklace – July 15 to August 31
David’s recommendations for the 2012 season
Thom Allison in Ragtime (Directed by Jackie Maxwell)
Nicole Underhay and Benedict Campbell in His Girl Friday (Directed by Jim Mezon)
Moya O’Connell and Jim Mezon in Hedda Gabler (Directed by Martha Henry)
Peter Krantz and Catherine McGregor in Misalliance (Directed by Eda Holmes)
ALSO OF INTEREST AT OR NEAR THE SHAW FESTIVAL
Contemporary Play Reading Series
Educational Seminars, Workshops and Symposiums
Old Fort Erie/ Old Fort Niagara
Wine country excursions
Range from $24.00 can (student matinees) to $110.00 can (weekends and openings)
Rush seats are available day of show
$30 rate for patrons under 30 years of age at any theatre
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE CHAMBER of COMMERCE RESERVATION SERVICE (CCA) 905-468-1950. In the Court House on Queen Street, Box 1043, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. www.niagaraonthelake.com Reservation service for 1700 plus rooms, representing every hotel and a collection of approved inns, cottages and bed-and-breakfast homes. For a quality experience, let our trained specialists help you select CCA (Chamber of Commerce Approved) accommodation. All price ranges represented.
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE BED and BREAKFAST ASSOCIATION (BBA) 905-468-0123 or 1-866-855-0123. Box 1228, Niagara-on-the-Lake L0S 1J0. www.bba.notl.on.ca Members are identified by BBA in the listings. Call or visit our website for a free availability search or to book online. We maintain high standards and adhere to a code of ethics. Book with a member.
ABOUT HISTORIC BED and BREAKFASTS IN OLD TOWN CENTRE www.historicbb.com These private homes, built before 1850, are within 4 short blocks of a theatre, dining and shops. Visit our website or contact the following homes in the Bed and Breakfast section: Adam Lockhart’s Storrington House, Annette Twining House, Apple Tree Bed and Breakfast, Barrett Cottage, B&B’s “Pacific”, Blaney House, Burns House, Davy House, Regent House, The Rogers-Harrison House, Royal Manor, Saltbox 1820 Cottage, Schoolmaster’s House. Open year-round. Central air. Full breakfasts. Private parking. Smoke-free. All rooms have private ensuite bathrooms. $100-$195.
ACCOMMODATION ALTERNATIVES NIAGARA www.accommodationalternativesniagara.com A fine selection of licensed cottages, apartments and homes in Niagara, suitable to those who prefer privacy and self-catering accommodations. Nightly from $110, weekly from $650.
Check this BLOG in August for reviews of many of the 2012 Shaw Festival productions.
The Stratford Shakespeare Festival
Located in the bucolic hills of Southern Ontario in the working class town of Stratford, The Stratford Festival has grown from its humble beginnings in 1953 (two Shakespearean plays produced in a tent) to one of the largest and most respected theatre festivals in the world. Once in financial peril during the late 1980’s, the theatre has enjoyed a remarkable rebound both artistically and financially under the capable stewardship of Richard Monette (who past away suddenly a few years ago just as he was starting his retirement) and Executive Director Antoni Cimolino, who has just been named as the Festival’s next Artistic Director. Cimolino succeeds Des McAnuff who was not expected to depart as Artistic Director until after next season.
Having completed of a 50 million dollar capital and endowment drive, long time patrons now enjoy improvements at all four of the Festival’s theatre venues, upgraded electronic services, and enhanced production quality on stage. Exciting indeed has been the addition of a fourth stage known as the Studio Theatre located above the Avon Theatre. This small flexible space, which opened four years ago, is now home to new work by Canadian playwrights, workshops, productions, and for the first time in its short history – Shakespeare. However, the Studio Theatre only seats 260 patrons, so if you want to see a popular production in the Studio Theatre, you need to purchase your tickets well in advance.
Variety has always been a hallmark of the Stratford Festival, where works by Shakespeare, Marlowe, Moliere and Ibsen share the stage with Broadway musicals and the comedies of Noel Coward and although Shakespeare will not dominate the large Festival Stage as he did three years ago, the Bard is still well represented and remains the artistic heart of the festival. This year the festival will offer up Much Ado About Nothing, Henry V and Cymbeline. The 60th season will also feature a large scale American musical (42nd Street) on the Festival Stage while another popular Gilbert and Sullivan musical (Pirates of Penzance) takes up residence at the Avon. While there are many who would like to see musicals banned from the traditional repertoire they just pay too many bills. 2008’s banishment of a musical from the Festival Stage had a very negative impact on Stratford’s bottom line.
There are many things to be excited about for the 60th anniversary season including the return of Christopher Plummer in his one man show A Word or Two and Cynthia Dale in 42nd Street and Christopher Newton to direct the Shaw Festival veterans Ben Carlson and Deborah Hay in Much Ado About Nothing.
While the US dollar has fluctuated in recent years against the Canadian dollar, this trip remains an outstanding value. And the US dollar has shown some renewed this past year. With Broadway prices soaring to $150-$300+ a ticket, it is hard to imagine that you could get more “bang for your entertainment buck” anywhere in the world than in Ontario, Canada.
STRATFORD SEASON AT A GLANCE
42nd Street – April 12 to October 28
Much Ado About Nothing – April 26 to October 27
The Matchmaker – May 12 to October 27
Henry V – June 24 to September 29
The Pirates of Penzance – May 3 to October 27
You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown – May 15 to October 28
A Word or Two – July 25 to August 26
Tom Patterson Theatre
Cymbeline - May 10 to May 30
Wanderlust – June 20 to September 28
Elektra – July 29 to September 29
MacHomer – May 2 to May 26
Hirsch – June 20 to September 14
The Best Brothers – June 26 to September 16
The War of 1812 – June 26 to August 12
David’s recommendations for the 2011 season
Much Ado About Nothing (directed by Christopher Newton)
42nd Street (starring Cynthia Dale)
Elektra (starring Seana McKenna)
A Word or Two (starring Christopher Plummer)
Cymbeline (directed by new AD Antoni Cimolino)
ALSO OF INTEREST AT STRATFORD
Late Night with Lucy (cabaret with Lucy Peacock)
Family Series Events
Celebrated Writers Series
Night Music – Special concerts each Monday evening June to August in the Festival Theatre
A wide assortment of classes, workshops, special events.
Range from $25.00 to $120.00 (Canadian $)
Rush seats are available day of show
There are also excellent student discounts and group rates available
I recommend the Swan Motel (Downie Street South)
Watch this space in August for reviews of many of the 2012 Stratford Shakespeare Festival productions.
David Grapes has been a theatre producer/director/playwright and freelance theatre journalist for over thirty years. He holds a BA in Theatre from Glenville State College and an MFA in Acting/Directing from the University on North Carolina at Greensboro.